Gateway to the Classics: Lucius, Adventures of a Roman Boy by Alfred J. Church
Lucius, Adventures of a Roman Boy by  Alfred J. Church


Lucius' friends in Tarsus had almost given up the hope of seeing him again. Nothing, of course, had been heard of him and the prince since the day of their sudden flight from Antioch, and though the old king was positive that a party which had started with such admirable omens could not possibly come to any harm, there were very few either at Pessinus or Tarsus who shared his faith. Philareté refused, indeed, to believe that her lover was dead, but her heart sank within her as the days passed without bringing any tidings. These months of sickening suspense had changed her from a blooming girl into a sorrowful woman; and her father, who was himself greatly troubled by the event, began to think of a change of scene as a forlorn hope of bringing back her health and spirits. But the girl passionately implored him not to take her away from Tarsus, as long, at least, as any shred of hope remained.

"If he does come back," she would say, "he will almost certainly come back here. And if he should come and find us gone! He might be very ill and want nursing. No! I can't go away till I am quite sure that I shall never see him again; and then you may take me where you please." It may be imagined then what a welcome the young Roman found, when one afternoon, late in September, he presented himself at the merchant's house. The porter stared at him for some moments as if he had seen a ghost, then seized and kissed his hand, for Lucius was a favorite with all the household.

"Let me announce myself," said the young man, and passed on through the central hall to what he knew to be Philareté's favorite room for study. She was sitting with a roll in her hand—the story of Ulysses—but she was lost in thought, with a sad, far-away look in her eyes. So buried was she in her musings that she did not turn her head as Lucius entered the chamber; and he stood for a minute or two watching her as she sat with her side face towards him. He felt the tears rise to his eyes as he marked the pale cheeks, the dark color almost of violet under her eyes, and the listless air of depression which marked her attitude. He began, too, to wish that he had taken a less abrupt way of making known his return.

He was considering what he had best do when he saw Philareté's weary look change to one of eager attention; and the next moment the figure of the merchant himself appeared at the window. His face showed at once that he had heard the news, and Philareté understood it before he had uttered a word. He leaped through the open window with the agility of a young man, crying out:

"Where is he? Why doesn't he come here? If the ungrateful rascal goes anywhere else, I will"—

What he would have done can never be known, for at this moment his eye fell on the figure of Lucius, who indeed thought that it was time for him to advance. The meeting, the long talk that followed, the questions asked and answered over and over again, the exclamations of wonder and pity and indignation, we shall not attempt to describe. It was an hour worth half a lifetime, and we must leave our readers to imagine it if they can for themselves.

We shall pass rapidly over the next few months. The prince found letters awaiting him from his father, directing him to remain at Tarsus during the winter if he should chance to return that way. The journey across Cilicia was, he said, no longer safe. Though hostilities had not actually commenced there was a state of war between Tigranes and Rome, and no ally of the republic could venture beyond the boundaries of the free city of Tarsus. In the mean time he would be the guest of the governor, and would, his father hoped, make the best use that he could of the many opportunities of so famous and learned a city. This stay was unexpectedly prolonged, much, as may be supposed, to Lucius' satisfaction. During the whole of the next year the Roman armies delayed to advance; and the two friends awaited month after month their summons to the court. It was fully eighteen months after their arrival in Tarsus when the long-expected letter arrived. Lucullus, the Roman commander-in-chief, had at length commenced his forward movement. The forces of Tigranes had fallen back beyond the Taurus range, and it was no longer unsafe for Romans and Roman allies to travel in Western Asia. Orders came that the prince and Lucius were to travel home with all speed, as there was a prospect, which for every reason it would be unwise to neglect, of their being attached to Lucullus' staff.

The parting between Lucius and his hosts was of course painful, but it was one which both he and they felt to be necessary. Lucius had his fortune to make, and would have scorned the idea of taking it ready made even at the hands of such a wife as Philareté. The girl herself, if she could have kept her lover with her by a word, was too much of a Spartan to utter it. Her red and heavy eyes told the tale of many sad thoughts about the approaching separation; but she contrived always to keep a cheerful air. The merchant bade his young friend farewell in these words:

"You must see this business out to the end, if it lasts one year or two, or even ten. My own opinion is that it will take more than the shortest and less than the longest of these times. If your general had a free hand he might finish it off very soon; but he has not, and I should not wonder if after all it should be somebody else and not Lucullus who gets the glory of bringing this war, which has lasted, remember, off and on, for more than twenty years already, to an end. But it is no good prophesying. Come back to us when you can in honor, and you shall have my daughter, that is to say if you and she are still in the same mind. Ah, you shake your head! but I have known young people change their minds. Don't think of enriching yourself, it is a sad hinderance to good soldiering, besides being as likely way of getting a man knocked on the head before his time as I know. You would not think of it, I know, for your own sake, but you might to please me. Understand, then, that what I want in a son-in-law is a man of honor who has made other people respect him. And now farewell, and the gods keep you!"

Philareté's eyes were tearless and her voice firm as she parted from her lover. She might have been a Spartan maiden sending brother or betrothed to the wars. But the tears were close behind the smile in those shining eyes, and ready to choke the gay voice in which she bade him do his duty as a good soldier in the field, and told him that she envied him his chances. And when she had waved him her last farewell and seen him turn round the corner of the market-place and pass, it might be forever, out of her sight, she broke down altogether, and her maidens had to carry her to her chamber, as little like as could be to an iron-hearted daughter of Spartan kings.

Lucius and his company found their way to Galatia without mishap, though the roads were not as clear as they had expected. At the capital some disappointment awaited them. Galatia was to send a cavalry contingent to serve with the Roman army, but it was not ready to start. The fact was that money was very scarce with the old king, whose Eastern provinces had yielded him very little revenue since the King of Armenia had ceased to be friends with Rome. There were Roman capitalists, it is true, who were ready to lend money, but their terms were exorbitant, ranging from twenty to forty per cent, and Deiotarus was too prudent to put himself into their hands. At last he had had recourse to the good offices of Cicero, who was on very good terms with the moneyed interest in Rome. Thanks to the great orator's intervention he got a loan of forty million sesterces (£36o,000) at what was considered the moderate rate of twelve per cent. This settled, every thing went briskly on, and a contingent of fifteen hundred horse was ready to start about the middle of August. It was a considerable time before they came up with the Roman army, which indeed had moved with a speed and acted with a vigor which had not a little astonished the "king of kings." To describe the earlier operations of the campaign does not fall within the scheme of this story. It must suffice to say that Lucullus had crossed the Euphrates and the Tigris, and had penetrated into the heart of Armenia, and after defeating the king in a great battle was now besieging his capital, the new city which he had called Tigranocerta, after his own name, and which he hoped to make a rival to Rome itself. About the end of September the prince with his contingent joined the Roman forces, which were busily carrying on the siege of the city. His first act was of course to report himself to the Roman general, and Lucius, who had been formally appointed to the post of second in command, a veteran officer of cavalry acting as "dry nurse" to the two young men, went with him.

Lucullus was a handsome man of about forty years of age, whose elaborately curled hair, fragrant with the richest perfumes of the East, and carefully arranged, might have made his visitors think him the first of fops, if they had not known that he was perhaps the best general and most able administrator of his time. His tent was a marvel of comfort and even luxury. It was difficult to believe that all its costly and elaborate furniture had been transported for hundreds of miles over mountains, deserts, and rivers. The floor was a richly ornamented tessellated pavement with a curious medley of subjects, the Graces dancing being portrayed in one place, a quaintly hideous comic mask in another, a carp with lustrous scales or a richly plumaged pheasant in a third, and in a fourth, perhaps, a curiously exact resemblance of a half-gnawed bone. The tables were of citron wood, polished and exquisitely carved; the couches were strewn with rich coverlets of purple, and supported by gilded legs, these also being elaborately carved. A side-board displayed a grand array of gold and silver cups; on two pedestals on either side of the tent were busts of Apollo and Diana, specimens of the best times of Greek art; while behind the general's favorite chair was a bookcase full of richly ornamented volumes. When the prince and Lucius entered he had one of these in his hand, and put it down with something of an air of reluctance to receive the newcomers.

"Welcome, prince!" he said in a cordial tone, when he saw who it was that had interrupted his reading. "You have come to see some campaigning, I suppose, and left your father at home. His years are getting too much for him. Well, you will not be disappointed. Tigranes will not let his brand-new city here be taken without a fight. Indeed, I hear that he is getting together such an army as never was seen before, and that we may expect him here before many more days are past. The sooner the better, I say, for I am tired of sitting down before this place. We are but poorly off, as you may suppose, at this distance from our base, for siege implements; and if something does not happen pretty soon we shall have the cold weather upon us. How many men have you brought me?"

"At the muster yesterday morning there were five short of fifteen hundred," answered the prince. "And now let me make known to you my second in command and friend, Lucius Marius, a Roman citizen."

"Your name commends you to a soldier," said Lucullus to our hero with a courteous inclination of the head, "and I have had besides letters from Rome which make me glad to have you in my camp. The prince will dine with me to-night, and you, of course, will accompany him. Till then, farewell!"

The dinner was in keeping with the apartment in which it was served. Lucullus had already developed some of the luxurious tastes for which he became famous in after life, when the cost of dinner in one of his rooms was never less than four hundred and fifty pounds. Lucius wondered where the dainties which he saw before him, the oysters, the sea-urchins, the lobsters, the turbot, the guinea-fowl, the old wine of Falernum, could have been got in the heart of Armenia. Every moment increased his wonder at the curious mixture of gluttony, foppery, and genius which he saw in his host. It was not diminished by the conversation after dinner, in which Lucullus showed himself as much a lover of books as he was of fine furniture and dainty dishes.

"This," he said, producing a roll from a fold in his robe, "was what made you for a moment this afternoon less welcome than you deserved to be. I had just got it by a messenger from Rome, and was deep in it when you were announced. Listen, and I am sure you will excuse me if I seemed for a moment wanting in the courtesy of a host."

He began reading a passage which describes the sacrifice of Iphigenia, and which may be found in the First Book.

"'Tis part of the beginning of a new poem about 'The Universe,'" he went on, "which a friend of mine at Rome is writing, to prove that every thing made itself, as far as I can make out his meaning, for I must own that he is not always so clear or so fine as in what I have just been reading."

He was just going on to give his guests some more specimens, when the officer of the guard came in with a despatch which had just arrived. The general's face brightened as he read the document. "Ah!" he said in a joyous tone, "we shall have the chance of trying our strength with the barbarians quite as soon as I had hoped. This comes, I may tell you, from the tribune Petilius, who has some light-armed infantry and a troop of horse some eighty miles away on the slopes of the Taurus. He tells me that Tigranes is moving on this place with an army that is variously reckoned somewhere between one hundred and two hundred thousand men; he is determined, the spies say, to fight a battle for his capital, and will do so without waiting for Mithradates, who is behind him with another array. That is all right; I don't care for Mithradates' army; it makes little odds whether we fight two hundred thousand or three hundred thousand; but I should be quite as well pleased as not to see the old king out of the way. He knows what he is about, has given Rome one or two great falls before this, and will, I dare say, do so again; whereas this Tigranes is eaten up with folly and conceit. Doubtless we shall see something of his advanced guard within eight days, but these great armies move very slowly."

The anticipation as to time was pretty nearly fulfilled. Petilius with his reconnoitring force fell back before the advancing army, and came into camp about five days after the arrival of his despatch. Tigranes was then, he calculated, distant about three days' march; and accordingly late in the afternoon of the 8th of October the van of the barbarian forces could be seen making its way down the nearest pass of the Taurus range. The movement went on all night, which happened to be bright and clear, for the following morning a vast host could be seen drawn up at the foot of the mountains. The besieged city was in a state of the utmost excitement. Many of its inhabitants, who had been violently transported from the cities of Western Asia to fill its empty streets, wished well to the Romans. But these had to keep their thoughts to themselves, because the majority of their fellow-citizens looked upon Tigranes as the man who was to make their fortunes by turning his new city into the capital of the world. They thronged the walls, shouting, singing, and dancing, and yelling out to the Roman outposts, who had advanced to within earshot of the walls, that they had better surrender at once.

Lucullus had made up his mind what to do; but he followed the usual custom of calling a council of war. It flattered his officers to have their opinions asked; and as it was tolerably certain that these opinions would be any thing but unanimous, no one could be offended that his advice was not followed. The prince and Lucius were both summoned to the assembly, which they found divided into two parties. Some could think of nothing but the siege. It would be madness, they cried, to give up that, when they had spent upon it so much time and labor. And what a thing it would be to have such a place for their winter quarters if they should be compelled to stop in Armenia until the next spring! Others were equally taken up with the army that seemed advancing to attack them. How can we be talking, they said, of besieging a place when the very next moment we shall probably have to fight for our lives? No; let us dispose of Tigranes and his army first, and then think of the city. Lucullus rose last to address the council. His manner, which was sometimes haughty and cold, was now full of courtesy and conciliation. He thanked the speakers for the advice which they had offered, and praised them highly for the clearness with which they had set it forth, and the admirable reasons with which they had supported it. He then reviewed the situation, as it appeared to him, and finally concluded in these words: "The gallant officers who think that we ought on no account to abandon a siege on which we have now spent much time, much labor, and, I am sorry to say, some blood both of Romans and allies, are certainly in the right. Right also, on the other hand, are my friends who declare that it would be madness to neglect the enemy who is at this moment advancing against us with forces so numerous. Both are right, but both also, I would say it with the good leave of gallant and distinguished soldiers, both are wrong. It seems to me that it is expedient neither to abandon the siege nor to neglect the army of the enemy. The gods of Rome favoring me, I will press on the one and defeat the other. My gallant friend Muræna, with six thousand men, will keep up the siege; I myself with the rest will march against Tigranes. And this, if the sacrifices favor us, we will do this very day."

The distance between the camp of the besiegers and the outposts of the army of Tigranes was about eight miles, the Tigris being between them. Lucullus felt that a march of eight miles with a river to cross at the end of it would be too much for men who were afterwards to fight with an enemy many times more numerous than themselves. Accordingly he left his camp before the walls of Tigranocerta late in the afternoon, marched as far as the Tigris, and bivouacked for the night on its right or western bank. The next morning the enemy was to be seen full in sight. It was a vast host, such as seldom had been collected since the day when Xerxes led the flower of Asia to perish in Greece. Besides his own Armenian subjects, the king had collected allies from far and wide, from the Indian plains, from the Persian mountains, from the dreary lands which border on the Caspian on the north, from the Persian Gulf on the south. For miles and miles of front stretched the long array, showing every variety of formation and equipment. The king himself stood in a chariot in the centre of the army's front line, with his body-guard in gilded armor round him. The infantry, which numbered, it was roughly calculated, one hundred and fifty thousand, was drawn up on either side. The tall mitre-shaped head-gear of the Medes was to be seen in one place; in another, the sunshine flashed on the steel helmets of the Caspian tribesmen and of the mountaineers of the Caucasus. Clouds of slingers and archers were spread out in advance of the main line; and on either wing were posted two enormous bodies of cavalry, numbering between them more than a third as many as the infantry. Many thousands of these were cuirassiers, and had the chests of their horses protected with armor. No part of the vast host had a more formidable look than these heavy riders, whose weight the strongest line of infantry seemed unable to resist.

The army of Tigranes numbered in all more than a quarter of a million. Lucullus had ten thousand infantry, and perhaps a third as many cavalry. It might have seemed, it did seem to many, absurd that he should dream of giving battle with such odds against him. The Armenian king thought so, for he is reported to have said when he saw the little army "like a flock of kids" in the middle of the vast plain: "On my word, if they have come as ambassadors, there are too many of them; if as soldiers, there are too few." But there were some, and Lucius was among them, who thought of another ten thousand, who on the plain of Marathon, some four hundred years before, had charged at a run, "like so many madmen," a Persian host at least twenty times more numerous than themselves. These daring tactics, which look indeed like madness, but which are really the bidding of the soberest sense, were what Lucullus was going to follow that day. At early morning the advance began. At first, indeed, it looked like a retreat, for where the Roman camp was pitched the river was too deep to be crossed, and the army had to move a little higher up before it could find a ford. This movement increased the distance between them and the enemy, and for a moment Tigranes thought that it meant flight. "Ah!" he cried—they heard the story from a Greek prisoner who had been in attendance upon him—"these cowards of Romans are running away." "Sire," said an old noble who stood by him, "I could wish that your good fortune might bring you the impossible; but I know these Romans; and when they dress themselves in their best, and have their shields rubbed bright, and their helmets uncovered, and all their arms at their brightest, they mean not running away, but fighting." Even as he was speaking the eagle of the Roman vanguard came full into view, for Lucullus had given the order to the army to wheel and cross the river. Tigranes looked on like one stupefied till the first cohort had entered the water, marched through it in as unbroken an order as if it had been dry land, and deployed on the nearer bank. Then and then only, like a man recovering from a drunken fit, he seemed to regain his senses. Three several times he cried out, "The men are upon us;" and issued hurried orders to his generals to set their forces in order.

It was high time that they should do so, for indeed the Romans were upon them. One of the timid advisers who are always ready, if they can, to ruin the bold ideas of greater minds, would have stopped Lucullus as he was crossing the river.

"Take care, my lord," he cried; "take care, this is the ninth of October, an unlucky day, for it was to-day that Cæpio lost eighty thousand men at Arausio in battle with the Cimbri."

"Unlucky is it?" said Lucullus, with a gay laugh. "Then I will make it lucky hereafter. Standard-bearer, lead on."

And following close upon the eagle he himself plunged into the water, and in a few minutes stood on the opposite bank. He was on foot, wearing a highly polished cuirass of scale armor, and a bright-colored cloak with tassels. He had drawn his sword, and was holding it aloft, a significant token to his men that the day's battle was to be a battle of the sword, fought at close quarters; and, indeed, for that small company to let themselves be made a mark for the fifty thousand archers and slingers that were arrayed against them would have been sheer madness. When about two thirds of his little army had crossed the river he determined, without waiting for the remainder, to order an advance, which, a quick march at first, was to be increased to the "double" when they should come within three hundred yards of the enemy. After giving these directions he summoned Prince Deiotarus to his side.

"Thank the gods, prince," he said, "for giving you a chance of striking the first blow at the enemy. You see these cuirassiers there with their armored horses. If that mob of slaves over there has any fighting stuff amongst it at all, it will be there. You and the Thracians will charge them. They are six to one, but what of that? At them as quick as you can."

The prince heard with delight, and galloped off to put himself at the head of his force. It stood drawn up in two squadrons, each consisting of about seven hundred men. The prince briefly addressed his Galatians, giving them the instructions which he had himself received.

"Advance," he said, at a trot. When we are about two hundred yards from the enemy I will raise my sword above my head. That will be the signal for you to put your horses to the gallop. Don't stop to throw your javelins. Close with them, and strike at the riders' legs. The cuirasses may turn your swords."

The commander of the Thracians spoke to his own men to the same purpose. The signal to advance was given, and Lucius, who, being the junior officer, was on the extreme right wing, for the first time in his life felt himself in the middle of what is perhaps the most exciting experience in the world, a charge of cavalry. The rapid, yet orderly movement of the lines, whose steel caps, and swords laid back over their shoulders, glittered in the fresh morning sunlight, the measured rhythmical tramp of thousands of horse-hoofs, filled him with such a passion for conflict as, though he was now no novice in fighting, he had not dreamt of before. A kind of intoxication of courage seemed to possess him. Fear was as far from his thoughts as if no such emotion existed. He could hear in the intense strain of his senses the hard breathing of the troopers who were closest to him, and caught a glimpse of their fiercely flashing eyes and hard-set teeth. He felt that with them beside him and behind him he could fling himself without hesitation on any host.

The actual issue of the charge was something of a disappointment. As long as the squadrons advanced at a trot the serried ranks of the enemy's cavalry stood unmoved, and seemed likely to present a firm front to the attack. But when the officers who led the charge raised, as had been settled before, their swords above their heads, and the whole body with an answering shout quickened at once into a gallop, something like a shudder passed through the dense mass of men. In another moment they were hopelessly broken into a wild confusion of struggling fugitives. A few of the chiefs indeed disdained to fly, and awaited with the courage of despair the shock of the advancing squadron. One of these, a man of huge stature, spurred his horse, itself an animal of unusual size and of a dazzling white color, at the young Roman. But before he had time to strike or to receive a blow he was swept away by the tide of horsemen, and Lucius, as he galloped on, caught a glimpse of rider and steed stretched helplessly on the ground.

The flight of the cuirassiers was followed in an incredibly short space of time by the rout of the whole army. The lines of Armenian infantry were broken by the furious rush of the fugitive horsemen, and, once broken, made no effort to form themselves anew. It was no battle, for five only of the Roman army were killed and not more than a hundred wounded, but simply a scene of slaughter and plunder. Lucius saw with disgust how his comrades went on slaying the unresisting enemy till they could hardly lift their arms to strike, and never ceased from their hideous debauchery of blood except to spoil some corpse that seemed to be more richly accoutred than usual. He had sheathed his own sword, and busied himself in persuading the Galatian troopers under his command to spare the lives of some of the wretched creatures who stood helplessly to receive the final stroke. It was not more than twice or thrice that he succeeded. One young man of two or three and twenty, whose face had caught his attention by some likeness which he vaguely felt, but could not account for, he saved at no small risk to his own life. It was, we shall find, a curious chance that brought the two together, and one that was to have some influence on the young Roman's after life.

Towards evening Lucullus recalled his troops from the pursuit. That night the victorious army bivouacked on the field among the crowded corpses of the dead, of which, it was said, there were in all as many as a hundred thousand. The next day he recrossed the river, and returned to the camp before Tigranocerta.

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